Over the last 10 years, educators and armchair psychologists have focused on the mindset required for success. Carol Dweck, in her 2006 book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” described the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. A fixed mindset assumes that success derives from innate ability or talent; increased effort will not change the outcome. A growth mindset assumes success results from hard work and effort that lead to learning. The growth mindset has been held up as the new answer to helping children learn and succeed in school, work and life.
As my husband and I embark on raising our daughter, we think a lot about instilling a growth mindset in her. Even before she can speak, we consider the words we use to encourage her as she learns. I try to replace “You did it! You’re so smart!” with “Look how hard you worked to learn that new skill!” Recently, I’ve turned my thoughts to how I can use this knowledge in my pastoral ministry.
I believe an understanding of fixed and growth mindsets may be an effective tool in the process of congregational transformation. As churches analyze their ministries, undertake SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunity and threat) analyses and discern how God is calling them to serve, adding in a close look at the congregational mindset could pay huge dividends.
I suspect that many established Presbyterian churches have grown up with a fixed mindset. In these churches, we think we are good at hospitality or youth programs or hosting a great potluck. It’s just who we are, and we celebrate those areas. We might not be so good at evangelism or advocacy or contemporary worship. It’s just not who we are, which means we may not try very hard to get better at those things. Some self-awareness in a congregation is actually a huge benefit. Knowing our gifts allows us to focus and avoid attempts to be all things to all people. But assuming that these traits define us once and for all – assuming that our identity is fixed – can be the death knell that closes us off to the winds of the Holy Spirit.
If the congregational mindset leans toward growth, there may be more opportunity for a struggling church to be transformed. This is not because a growth mindset simply means a church is open to change. Putting in the effort to try new strategies is a first step, but growth mindset is truly marked by learning from those new things and seeking to improve (see this article in Education Week for more). Once we have tried a new model for Sunday school or implemented a creative strategy for mission, we can analyze what we’ve done, build on it for the future or discard it in place of something that’s a better fit. Those who function with this mindset know that they can shift and find ways to be more effective and even more faithful. Even Presbyterians can evangelize by sharing faith in healthy ways. Even older membership congregations can offer passionate ministry to the young people in their neighborhood. We are not ultimately defined by any one factor of identity or past achievement. Setbacks do not necessarily mean the church has failed or doesn’t have gifts for some particular ministry. They just mean we quite haven’t figured it out yet. We might need to rethink an idea, pray about it some more, seek wisdom from others or discern that our calling is in a different direction.
Just as we are all a mix of both fixed and growth mindsets, churches are too. By noticing when we are stuck in fixed mindset, we can shift toward a growth mindset and thereby prepare ourselves to be transformed according to God’s call.
EMMA NICKEL serves as interim pastor at Beulah Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. She is passionate about congregational ministry, trying new recipes and keeping her baby’s naps on schedule. She lives in Louisville with her husband, Matt, and their young daughter